Debt

Catching a Break After Years of Barely Making Ends Meet

For the last seven years, I’ve been an adjunct professor of writing at three different institutions, while raising three kids mostly on my own. At the University of Oregon, that meant an annual, full-time salary of $27,000, though they offered me great benefits. At other schools, my salary ranged from $2,000/class to $4,000/class, though my cap was typically four or five classes a year, and never any work in the summer. This meant many summers (which would sometimes stretch to fall) on food stamps supplemented with a few trips to the food bank. It meant shopping at Goodwill, borrowing money from my mom or brother, floating checks, free lunch applications, payday loans. It also meant that I relied on friends for non-monetary help, too: picking up my kids from theater or chess, or getting groceries after I had back surgery, or just letting me vent and worry aloud about how hard it was to make ends meet.

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Nobody’s Default But My Own: What Happened When I Decided to Stop Paying My Credit Card Debt

I should have never gotten a credit card, and I knew it. Nobody without a job, savings, or assets of any kind should, especially if their income is less than their rent. It’s basic math.

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My Spreadsheet Summer

I’ve never really put myself on a budget before, which I find kind of shameful. Fed up with constantly being a couple hundred dollars behind on my Visa, I’ve decided to do something about it. I set up a spreadsheet, planning my budget over the next few months and will be obsessively tracking my progress. I’ve got a pretty simple set-up: one column for the date, one for the balance of each of my bank accounts, one for my Visa, and one for notes. It looks like this…

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Let’s Throw Some Money at Our Problems: June 2014 Check-in

It’s time to check in on our debt payments and savings goals again.

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Can I Give You $1,000 and NOT Be a Bridesmaid?

Bridesmaid costs are exorbitant, to the degree that should you bribe the bride $1000 to pick someone else, you’d still quite possibly save money over what you would have spent. An Alternet essay, reprinted in Salon, makes the point that when participating in a friend’s special day has the potential to bankrupt you, the situation is ridiculous and needs to change.

Much has been written about the average cost of a wedding as well the average cost of being a bridesmaid. A 2012 study by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com reported that the average wedding budget was $28,427 – the highest number it had reached since 2008. And Mint.com estimated in 2011 that the average total cost of being a bridesmaid totaled $1,695. … The Today Show reported that approximately 10 percent of people said they went into debt simply to attend or be in a wedding.

How does this enormous number come to be? There are the obvious factors: the dress, which can cost anywhere from $100 to more than $400; and then the alterations, which can add another $100 or more; and the shoes which can ring up as anything from $30 to $150. Then there are all of the events related to the wedding: the showers, of which there are usually more than one (along with the customary bridal shower, recipe and lingerie showers are now the norm). Then there’s the bachelorette party, which, for many, has evolved from a night of bar hopping to a destination event that involves airfare or gas, a hotel and several expensive days and nights at spas, restaurants and bars. Factor in manicures, pedicures, hair and makeup for the wedding itself and the total cost could easily exceed that $1,695 average.

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One Year After I Faced My Student Loan Default

Last year I wrote a piece about how I finally faced the fact that my defaulted student loans weren’t going anywhere, and the surprisingly simple process I embarked upon to rehabilitate them. Now, 13 months after I made the first steps towards remedying my financial situation—mustering the courage to face my creditors, actually picking up the phone and asking for help, committing to slowly paying my debt back despite a not so lucrative salary—I am proud to say that my student loans have been successfully rehabilitated and I am no longer in default. I may be one of the only people in America to be thrilled that I owe Sallie Mae a large chunk of my hard earned cash. It’s amazing how perceptions can change when you finally owe semi-shady student loan overlords a boatload of money rather than completely ruthless and unrelenting run-of-the-mill debt collectors. It’s the little things that make me proud of how far I’ve come.

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WWYD: Prudie & The Ethicist Edition

Wouldn’t Prudie and the Ethicist be a good name for a band? Anyway. Someone wrote a letter to Slate’s Dear Prudence with a question that they should have pointed our way:

My good friend has found her mate after several failed relationships and is desperate to be married and start her family (tick tock). I am thrilled that she is engaged, and she has asked me to be in the wedding. I would normally be pleased to do so, except for one issue. She has debt of approximately $250,000 in credit cards and student loans, and she has not told her fiancé about this. I feel strongly that she is morally and ethically required to tell him before they are married, but she refuses. I can’t help but feel like an accomplice to her dishonesty by standing up in the wedding. What is the right thing to do? —Silent Accomplice

Prudie tells SA that she’s right to be squicked out: her “good” friend is perpetrating a fraud.

debt like this is something that simply must be revealed before two people wed. Keeping from your intended painful news, like a diagnosis of major illness, a previous incarceration, or the fact that you are dead broke (and not Hillary Clinton dead broke), means starting a life together based on an implicit lie.

Startlingly, Prudie does not suggest that SA write the clueless fiance an anonymous letter suggesting he follow the money. I wish we knew whether the bride were hiding financial truths from the groom or straight out lying. Either way, marriages have been based on deceit since the beginning of time. Years shaved off of ages, ex-wives forgotten, goats gone unaccounted for, paternity fudged. This can be seen as just another strike against the Wedding Industrial Complex, the societal idiocy that drives us to get married at all costs, often literally. Audits and prenups for all! Or don’t get married. That’s cool too.

Meanwhile, at the Ethicist’s lair …

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Asking For It: Crowdfunding A Passion Project

One consequence of having friends for years is you get to see the changes that life brings. (Cue David Bowie ch-ch-ch-changes.) One of my best friends, playwright and performer Alexis Clements, is a lady who works hard, writes a ton, and explores widely. We met in 2000 while studying abroad in the Netherlands. We both liked to cook elaborate meals in hostel kitchens and traveled light. I was a poet and she was studying theater. In the time since then, she’s worked in museums & science institutions while exploring subjects as diverse as Ben Franklin, conversation, and pamphleteering in the greater New York area. In the mid-2000s, she moved to England and got a master’s in philosophy of science. Around the same time I went to grad school for poetry and dropped out after a year, afraid of the debt I was accruing.

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I Used to Dodge Debt Collectors & Now I Have a Great Credit Score

Hiding the car from the repo man and renting a private mailbox so he didn’t have to provide a home address were just two of the ways Dan Nainan was trying to deal with his debt a decade ago.

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The Dregs of My Kickstarter Campaign

Late in the summer of my thirty-first year, in the waning hours of my Kickstarter, I said something very foolish.

“If we reach $7,600,” I said aloud, “I will record a Firefly EP.”

That was only $600 over my last stretch goal, which was “to make a music video,” which was only $1,000 over my actual Kickstarted project, to record Giant Robot Album in a real Los Angeles recording studio with the band The Long Holidays.

It is now the summer of my thirty-third year. The Kickstarter rewards were sent out almost immediately after the Kickstarter got funded. Giant Robot Album was officially released on June 25, 2013. The Giant Robot Album music video, which I ended up making myself in iMovie because I had long spent all the Kickstarter money, went live on March 23, 2014.

Now, I’m spending my evenings sitting on the scrubbed-clean floor of my apartment bathroom, putting together a Firefly EP.

(Just so we’re all clear: by “Firefly EP” I mean “an EP containing original songs about characters from the popular-but-canceled television series Firefly.” Also, musicians record in bathrooms because the acoustics are good.)

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Link Round Up: Student Loans and More Student Loans; Millennials Hoarding Cash Like Dragons

President Obama’s move to help ease the student loan crisis started a cascade of think pieces about student loans over the weekend. Here are a couple of the most interesting:

Here’s Why the Student Loan Market Is Completely Insane, via Businessweek. Complete with charts! Oh, and facts, lots of sobering facts:

Default rates at such places as Stanford, Duke, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Yale are all less than 2 percent. Not surprisingly, graduates from these schools command high salaries in the job market. At such places as West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida, and Boise State—schools much better known for athletics than academics—default rates are 10 percent. Further down the food chain are much higher default rates at places such as Alcorn State (16 percent), Colorado Technical University (23 percent), University of Phoenix (26 percent), Lincoln Technical Institute (30 percent), and Arizona Automotive Institute (42 percent).

+ Finding Shock Absorbers for Student Debt, via the NYT, also concerns itself with the problem of default, and wants to help cushion students against the risks they incur by paying for college.

The core problem with student debt is that we don’t adequately insure students against the risk of investing in college. While a vast majority of undergraduates have borrowed much less than some headlines suggest — in one study from the last decade, 98 percent borrowed less than $50,000 and four out of 10 borrowed nothing at all — millions are in default or behind on payments. With damaged credit records, they face higher interest rates on car and home loans, rejected rental applications and lost job opportunities. … But how can we help in the short term? We should allow student-loan payments to rise and fall with income, as we do with Social Security and taxes. If borrowers hit a tough spell, payments should drop automatically. If they score well-paying jobs, payments should rise. This is called “income-based repayment.”

+ Perhaps all of this has something to do with why millennials are hoarding cash like dragons?

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Does Success in One Area Mean Failure In Another?

Shonda Rhimes’ Dartmouth commencement speech just hit Medium. It’s ostensibly posted by Ms. Rhimes herself, which — I mean, I really want to break this down for a minute, she could have picked anywhere to post her speech, anywhere from HuffPo to The Atlantic to Kindle Singles, and she picked Medium? (Does Shonda Rhimes really need a gatekeeper-free publishing platform to share her message?)

Anyway, the speech is great, and the pull quote about “dreamers vs. doers” works, but to me, the most interesting part of the speech was the section that began:

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.

That is the truth, right there.

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